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Ross-shire MSP delivers Scottish Government budget after resignation of finance secretary David Mackay

By Scott Maclennan

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MSP Kate Forbes speaking in the Scottish Parliament.
MSP Kate Forbes speaking in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Government has managed to deliver its budget despite announcing that its finance secretary had been suspended hours before he was due at Holyrood.

MSP Derek Mackay was forced to resign after reports emerged this morning accusing him of sending hundreds of messages to a 16-year-old boy.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed he had been suspended from the parliamentary group and the party.

Public finance minister Kate Forbes delivered the budget this afternoon instead.

The 29-year-old Highland MSP became the first woman in the history of Westminster or Holyrood to deliver a budget.

The principle points of the plan, which was largely devised by her predecessor Mr Mackay, saw a raft of announcements including a freeze on income tax for higher and top rate earners.

However, Miss Forbes confirmed basic and intermediate band thresholds will be increased by inflation to protect the lowest and middle income earners.

Amid dire warnings of Police Scotland needing to cut as many as 750 officers to plug budget gaps, she confirmed the Scottish Police Authority will get £37 million more resource budget to “maintain officer numbers at their current level”.

As part of a raft of measures to target climate change, Miss Forbes announced £120 million for a heat transition deal, £40 million more for the agriculture transformational programme and £64 million for forestry and capital funding of £151 million for energy efficiency infrastructure.

There will be a public sector pay rise of three per cent for workers earning less than £80,000 a year while there will be a total investment of more than £2 billion which is aimed at helping ensure there is the skill-and-research base the economy needs.

One of the big questions was the local government settlement which amounts to total funding of £11.3 billion in 2020-21.

According to the Scottish Government that provides councils with an increase in revenue spending of £494 million, fully funds all government commitments and provides an additional £100 million for social care, including a contribution of £25 million to ensure all care staff are paid the living wage.

But Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie claimed: "Councils have only been given half of what they need."

Fellow Highland MSP and Scottish Labour’s finance spokeswoman Rhoda Grant said: “Despite the additional powers that have come to the Scottish Parliament over the last decade the SNP government have failed to maximise their use, leaving our economy, our people and our essential services worse off.

“They have endeavoured to hide this through smoke and mirrors but they must come clean with the Scottish people.”

The Conservatives shadow finance secretary Murdo Fraser believes the SNP’s plans have short-changed the police which sought £50 million to stave off redundancies.

He said: “As it stands, this budget falls well short of where we need it to be. The SNP has to go back to the drawing board and make improvements if it wants to win our support.

“Not enough money is being handed to police, the tax gap between Scotland and the rest of the UK will widen again, and there’s no commitment on hospital parking charges.”

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